Estimated read time: 5-6 minutes
SALT LAKE CITY — The Tabernacle Choir at Temple Square is one of the more well known symbols of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
And it is known and well respected both outside and inside of the United States, says former Utah Gov. Mike Leavitt, who is now president of the Tabernacle Choir.
He recalled being at a small inn in Scotland, and when the topic of the choir came up, Leavitt said the innkeeper told him he watches the choir's broadcast every week. It was clear the choir was important to him as he talked about the weekly broadcasts.
Even for people who are not members of the church, Leavitt said the choir "evokes an important set of feelings." Many people have commented how the choir's holiday music is an important part of Christmas for them.
The choir is now seeking to grow its worldwide audience even more as a tool to help spread the message of the church throughout the world. Leavitt said it is important for people everywhere the church is organized to feel attached to the Tabernacle Choir.
"Our sponsor, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, is a global church with a worldwide mission. The Tabernacle Choir, of course, is one of the more important symbols, if you will, of the church and so it's important that we find ways to amplify or magnify that worldwide mission of the church," Leavitt said.
One change is adding the words "throughout the world" to the choir's mission statement, which Leavitt said is a deliberate reminder that the purpose of the choir is to reach all people and "deliver the same kind of peace and healing music that helps people feel a sense of divine within them."
"The Tabernacle Choir at Temple Square performs music that inspires people throughout the world to draw closer to the divine and feel God's love for His children."
–Mission statement of the Tabernacle Choir
In a meeting with the choir organization on Nov. 15 to announce the goal to extend the choir's reach, church President Russell M. Nelson shared how he sees the choir being part of the church's growth around the world.
"The church will continue to grow. It will fill the world. It will continue to bless more and more nations, tongues, and people. The Lord is hastening his work in the promised global gathering of Israel. You can be sure that the Tabernacle Choir, Orchestra and Bells at Temple Square will be a pivotal part of that era," President Nelson said.
3 new initiatives: Tryouts, touring and translating
With the broadened mission comes three initiatives: inviting people from other countries to sing with the choir, translating broadcasts of "Music and the Spoken Word" into other languages, and doing more frequent, but smaller tours.
Leavitt said they hope each of these pilot projects will help the choir presidency and church leaders better understand how they can carry the message of the church throughout the world — and be "supportive and symbolic" of the church's worldwide mission.
Leavitt said he and others have learned that people outside the United States will have a deeper attachment to the choir — and to the church itself — if they see people from their own countries in the choir.
So in the next general conference, people from Mexico, Central America, South America, West Africa, the Philippines and Asia will be invited to join the choir. Leavitt said they expect to add between five and 20 people to the 360-person choir.
This may be a one-time or an occasional event, depending on how this first process goes, he said, but they hope this effort will bring more attachment to the choir from around the world. It may lead to the development of other ways people outside the United States can sing with the Tabernacle Choir.
With the help of church leaders around the world, the choir is already taking steps to identify and select people in these countries who have the qualifications to sing with the choir and helping them through an audition process similar to what current members of the choir went through. Leavitt said each of these candidates would qualify to be in the choir if they lived near Salt Lake City, where the choir is based.
To help these people prepare, they will travel to Salt Lake City a month before general conference to begin practicing directly with the choir.
"It will be a wonderful way for the choir to become better acquainted. I think it will also be a powerful symbol, to people all over the world, that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is a global church with a worldwide mission," Leavitt said.
The choir's weekly broadcast "Music and the Spoken Word," is the longest continuously-running weekly network broadcast in the world. It first began airing in 1929 and is broadcast on multiple stations around the world. Leavitt said in some parts of the world the program's audience is not as large as it could be because it is in English.
To make the broadcasts more accessible, the choir is planning to have the narration, the same words spoken by Lloyd D. Newell, translated and read by native speakers of other languages.
At this point, they are planning to create episodes in Spanish and Portuguese, but Leavitt said they aspire to have the weekly broadcast translated into languages around the world so people can hear and view the broadcast in their own language as they learn more about its feasibility.
"We believe that would be something well received around the world," Leavitt said.
The choir has been going on tours for almost all of its 175 years, typically every two years. Leavitt said now the church plans to expand this by changing how the choir travels. It plans to travel with smaller groups for shorter periods of time — but more frequently. The new concept of travel could also include joint performances, more performances in one area and a focus on digital media before and after trips.
The choir will test this new travel approach during a travel assignment to Mexico City on June 13-19, 2023.
"I think it will be evident as we begin this process, that we'll be traveling around the world to carry the message of the choir and the church throughout the world," Leavitt said.
The change in the choir's mission is not just a reminder to the choir, he said, but a reminder to all Latter-day Saints that they are part of a worldwide church.